Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Controversy of Poets - The Deep Divide in American Poetry

Growing up in Napa, California during the 1950's and 1960's, I was more or less subject to the cultural opportunities afforded in public school, the local public library, and the one local bookstore. Our family was poor, we didn't travel, and my parents--though reasonably cosmopolitan--were completely unsophisticated when it came to music, literature, and the arts in general. 

When I graduated from high school in 1965, most of what I knew about poetry had come from what I had been exposed to in my English classes, and whatever I could find in the library (where I worked for 2 1/2 years at the end of high school). This was mostly hoary old anthologies edited by Louis Untermeyer or Oscar Williams, often in double-columned page-spreads, and with the oval "portraits" of poets mostly long-dead. The idea that there might be people actually writing contemporary poetry was almost unimaginable, since the society I lived in would have regarded such activity as a vanity, or as a symptomatic form of sexual deviance. 

Do I exaggerate? Not at all. Rural suburban California in the post-War period was a backwater, composed primarily of refugees from the East. It included x-servicemen, "Oakies" from the Depression, war factory transplants, and all manner of dispossessed arrivistes from other parts of the country. These people were unsophisticated in their tastes, and politically were what today would be described as "conservative" Democrats, for the most part. The burgeoning suburbs were filling up, experiencing the new post-War prosperity which our parents--who'd grown up during the Depression years--welcomed with unequivocal relief. 

Into this still pool of cultural deprivation in which we lived, one day, dropped a copy of A Controversy of Poets, An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Paris Leary and Robert Kelly.* I must have found it on the back shelves of the local book store, The Napa Book Company (run by the old Chronicle book reviewer, "Speed" Claus). Speed must have been into his early Eighties, but was chipper still, and would tell you about how he'd been tasked to read Gone With the Wind in one night, to get a review on the spike by the next P.M. 

A Controversy of Poets was a revelation to me. I'd not yet read, or even knew about, The New American Poetry (Donald Allen); the most "recent" poetry I'd read was 73 Poems, by E.E. Cummings (Harcourt Brace, 1973) who could on no account be considered a barometer of contemporary poetic trends.** What was most obvious about this anthology was that its joint editors agreed about nothing except the utility of exhibiting their separate viewpoints, as they described it in their curt Preface:

"This anthology is designed to turn the attention of the reader away from movements, schools or regional considerations. Hitherto some of these poets have been referred to by commentators more enthusiastic than accurate as belonging to this or that rival--and hostile--school. Such poetasting has only served to distract the reader from the poem and to divert his attention to supposed movements or schools, whereas the only affiliation finally relevant is that apparent from the work itself."

The division in values and approach which the collection exhibited would have been instantly familiar to any poet writing circa 1965, the year it was published. Ron Silliman, among others, has described at length, and repeatedly, the crucial differences of this generic bi-furcation of styles of writing, which have their roots far back into 19th Century American literature.  

It may have seemed an admirable goal, to Leary and Kelly, to "force" such hostile armies of the pen into the same compound, as an instance of controlled integration, but aside from this one occasion, there was no compromising effect, either then, or in the ensuing 45 years (and counting). Let's put the competing participants into their respective camps, with the Leary's "conservatives" on the left, and Kelly's "renegades" on the right (just for the sake of irony):

Gray Burr      John Ashbery
Peter Davison      Paul Blackburn
James Dickey      Robin Blaser
Edward Field      Gregory Corso
Donald Finkel      Robert Creeley
Anthony Hecht      Edward Dorn
Daniel Hoffman      Larry Eigner
Theodore Holmes      Theodore Enslin
X.J. Kennedy      Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Galway Kinnell      Allen Ginsberg
Melvin Walker La Follette      LeRoi Jones
Gerrit Lansing      Robert Kelly
Paris Leary      Denise Levertov
Laurence Lieberman      Jackson Mac Low
Robert Lowell      Edward Marshall
Thomas Merton      Michael McClure
W.S. Merwin      Georgia Lee McElhaney
Vassar Miller      Frank O'Hara
Robert Pack       Charles Olson
Kenneth Pitchford      Joel Oppenheimer
Ralph Pomeroy      Rochelle Owens
Adrienne Rich      Jerome Rothenberg
Stephen Sandy      Gary Snyder
Frederick Seidel      Jack Spicer
Anne Sexton Diane Wakoski
W.D. Snodgrass John Wieners
Nancy Sullivan Jonathan Williams
Robert Sward Louis Zukofsky
Theodore Weiss
Richard Wilbur
John Woods

As will be apparent from my lists, I've probably gotten a couple of the "conservatives" in the wrong column: Would Dickey, or Lansing, or Merton, or Sullivan have been Kelly's choices? Without a program, perhaps I wouldn't know who's on first! Their writing sure looks old-fashioned from the current perspective, though perhaps in those solemn days, even the smallest braveries may have sounded revolutionary.

What this anthology showed me, then, in 1965, as a high school senior, was that there was a political or aesthetic divide in contemporary American poetry, that there were poets on the one hand who wrote in strict quatrains, in tended rhyme and sanded edges, and those on the other hand who wrote with warts showing, whose wild kick-outs and lurching gesticulations seemed uninhibited and untamed. My unformed tastes then would explain why, for instance, I found O'Hara's 'Biotherm' undisciplined, scattered and indulgent, or Zukofsky's 'Poem Beginning "The"' so mysterious and arcane. As a fan of light verse, I would certainly have seen the tremulous faulty wit in X.J. Kennedy's 'A Water Glass of Whisky', or recognized Ferlinghetti's stale doggerel (even then) as the dated nonconformism it was. There were a few names I knew: Richard Wilbur, whose achingly polite and gentle rhetoric seemed like the adult version of what my parents may have imagined I myself should become; Gary Snyder, whose backwoods pretensions evoked our family camping trips to the Sierras; or W.S. Merwin's fashionable "European" seriousness; or Snodgrass's familiar Tennysonian elegy 'Heart's Needle'.  
A Controversy of Poets was, in fact, a unique moment not only in my writing life, but perhaps in the history of American poetry itself. An attempt to initiate a reconciliation at the precise moment in time that the crisis of modernity was coming to a head. Perhaps the last chance there was to broker some kind of rapprochement between the hostile camps. 
Clearly, the terms of the dialectic which A Controversy proposed/described have changed little since then. Today, it is as difficult to theorize a unified field of literary taste as it would have been then, and the lines may seem at times as graphically divisive as ever. Who, today, would think to mention Silliman's Alphabet in the same breath with Robert Pinsky's Collected Poems? A yawning gulf separates them, not only in terms of what kind of audience their work implies (and is designed to please), but the respective aesthetic pre-conceptions out of which each is composed.
Silliman has chosen to characterize the conservative faction as being the "Quietists"--derived, somewhat bogusly or speciously in my view, from his use of Poe--as if to give some quaintly progenitive precedent for his own view: "The phrase [School of Quietude] itself was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in the 1840s to note the inherent caution that dominates the conservative institutional traditions in American writing."  He continues:

"I've resurrected the term for a couple of reasons: It acknowledges the historical nature of literary reaction in this country. As an institutional tradition that has produced writers of significance only at its margins--Hart Crane, Marianne Moore--the SoQ continues to possess something of a death grip on financial resources for writing in America while denying its own existence as a literary movement, a denial that the SoQ enacts by permitting its practitioners largely to be forgotten once they've died. That's a Faustian bargain with a heavy downside, if you ask me, but one that is seldom explored precisely because of the SoQ's refusal to admit that it exists in the first place. Perhaps the most significant power move that the SoQ makes is to render itself the unmarked case in literature...while every other kind of writing is marked, named, contained within whatever framework its naming might imply. Hence Language Poetry, Beat Poetry, New Narrative, the San Francisco Renaissance, etc. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the few cases in which SoQ poetics has named some of its own subcohorts, such as the agrarians or new formalists. These can be read, rightly, as the sign of a struggle within the SoQ over relations of hierarchy & institutional advantage. The agrarians, as it turns out, were successful, the new formalists it would seem were not. I choose the School of Quietude category just to turn the tables here to call into question the issue of paleopoetics being the unmarked case in American writing. If I am correct in applying a social interpretation to their activity over the past 16 decades, the only way to unhinge them from their position of hegemony through blandness is to name them, to historicize them, maybe even to rescue some of their forgotten heroes so that we begin to understand the pathology at the heart of their poetry."

He has qualified this tendency towards categorical nicety:

" approach tends to be strategic: I deploy categories when & where I think they will do some good, and only to the degree that they might accomplish this. When I'm hurried or sloppy, the strategic tends to devolve into the tactical, but I'd like to think that I'm at least conscious of that as a problem, even if I don't entirely avoid it. I prefer post-avant precisely because the term acknowledges that the model of an avant-garde--a term that is impossible to shake entirely free of its militaristic etymological roots & that depends in any event upon a model of progress, i.e., teleological change always for the better--is inherently flawed. The term however acknowledges an historical debt to the concept & recognizes the concept as temporal in nature...the avant-garde that interests me is a tradition of consistently oppositional literary tendencies that can be traced back well into the first decades of the 19th century, at the very least. The term also has an advantage in being extremely broad...."
As Silliman knows only too well, trying to make negative judgments based on a "progressive" description of literary history is fraught with potential, contradictory complexities. The very word "traditional" itself seems problematic, since what anyone (even Silliman) wants, is to define a preferred tradition that legitimates itself through the positioning of its choices. 
What I find most refreshing about A Controvery of Poets, is its implicit acceptance of the notion that differences may not only be inevitable, but actually stimulating and useful. While it may be possible to say about a poet, like, for instance, Jack Gilbert, that his means are wholly traditional and predictably bland, the "stuff" of his sensibility is purely post-Modern:  Intuitive, disjunct, post-apocalyptic, and solitary--qualities which certainly have more to do with pre-Modern, and even more certainly pre-Renaissance and non-Western sources and "traditions" than anything one could predictably describe as "traditional" in form or significance (as an historical/aesthetic accusation).        

What, then, was I to make of an apparent monstrous unresolved stand-off in a literary landscape which I could not even begin to understand, circa 1965? Would my apprehension of the formal possibilities of writing poetry such as that which I understood through Zukofsky, for instance, be opposed by my appreciation of, for instance, John Logan, or Theodore Roethke? Would it, in other words, have been useful for me to have been persuaded to approach the field of possible voices--coming at me from multifarious directions--by imposing a sort of kangaroo court of discrimination, passing this one, rejecting the other, on the basis of how "traditional" or "innovative" each may have seemed? I would certainly have rejected that notion then, as I would probably now, except that the whole notion of "belonging" to this or that school or group or coterie, has crucial implications, not just for one's participation in the system of literature, but for anyone intending to pursue writing in a "serious" way, as a career. 

In the years following, as I matriculated to UC Berkeley, Iowa, and beyond, all these issues and conflicts and tendencies would become more vivid and concrete. I knew, without a doubt, that had I pursued a more narrowly conservative track as a poet during my years at Iowa, honing my oeuvre and style to please the reactionary editors and judges of the 1970's, my career as a writer would probably have led me towards a role that my parents--and their world, god help them!--would have understood, on some basic level. How would I ever have explained to them--as I could never have done--how a poem of Robert Creeley's or Frank O'Hara's spoke to me in a way that Longfellow's or Sandburg's would to them?  

That division, then, had deeper implications than mere literary styles. It expressed a schism in the possible audience for literature that was as real as the world that I had grown up in. The officially sanctioned body of acceptable literary taste exercised a subtle control over the means of dissemination. America's puritanical, artistically conservative and suspicious character guaranteed that a justly respectful and righteous attitude towards the familiar music of sentimental "verse" be maintained, against the untutored, rebellious experimenters. 

W.H. Auden has said that the reason for such variety [in A Controversy] is that America has no traditions, and that each artist struggles to create one--to which he can subsequently be faithful.  The riches of modern American poetry he ascribes to the solitude and independence in which the creative American mind comes to its own consciousness of itself.*** I myself made a point very like this, when I insisted in an online comment stream that the reason American poetry can claim so many variant channels is that it's too large to be unified (as it is in France or England): It's a collection of regional entities, with the Mid-Atlantic region (the powerhouse of publishing and reviewing) showing the greater dominance, but without the vertical integration so characteristic of European centres. Thus, we have San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the South, The Mid-West, New England, the Prairie, and even our foreign "exile" contingent--all as separate, distinct, places, with separate, identifiable periods, with isolate(d) individuals scribbling away in a relative remoteness which makes them gratifyingly forsaken!, at least in the orderly, controlled manner in which American decency and propriety is interpreted.  

Ultimately, then, the effect upon me of this anthology, when I first acquired it, was of an eclectic debate. Unlike the Untermeyer and Williams carousels, which made of each poet a tended plot, with just the right amount of fertilizer and irrigation to keep it alive, the joint editors of A Controversy of Poets allowed their readers to imagine that the ultimate poetics was literally up for grabs, with the outcome very much in doubt. It didn't presume to say that everyone should, or could, think of all of its exemplars as inevitably chosen, but of all severally engaged in a colloquy of separate voices, none more "correct" than any other. It even implied that the process of selection--which involved, after all, as it always does, a series of exclusions--was open-ended, as Kelly made plain in his list of an additional 39 names, on the last page of the text, which might, in his words, have made "an anthology of comparable merit." Indeed, one wonders how--despite all possible excuses--Kelly could exclude Duncan, Oppen, Niedecker, and Whalen--while including Blaser, Oppenheimer, Owens, and Jonathan Williams?

All anthologies are doomed. Monuments to passing fashion. How few survive. Pound's Active Anthology [Faber, 1933]. Donald Hall's Contemporary American Poetry [Penguin, 1962]. Paul Carroll's Young American Poets [Follett, 1968]. Donald Allen's New American Poetry [Grove, 1960].    


*This was a paperback original first edition from Anchor Books (a division then of Doubleday), which is probably how it came to my attention; I would almost certainly not have discovered it, had it been published as a big, expensive hardcover. 
**To which could be added, John Updike (Verse, Fawcett, 1965), and May Swenson (To Mix With Time, Scribner's, 1963). Actually, I was a voracious reader of poetry in my early 'teens, but this was mostly confined to work written before 1940, i.e., Archibald MacLeish, T.S. Eliot, Rupert Brooke, Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, etc.
***This reference is taken directly from Paris Leary's Postscript to A Controversy.       


Anonymous said...

Lansing is in the wrong column. My guess would be that Edward Field or Thomas Merton would be the other one whom Kelly picked. Field was in the Allen anthology (to his bemusement) and Merton is someone whom Jonathan Greene (a Kelly student from the late 60s) went on to become a friend & scholar of.

In addition to Robert Duncan, whom both wanted (and Kelly I think says so in the book itself), Georgia Lee McElhaney told me this past week that both also tried to get Bob Dylan.

Ed Baker said...

same/similar situate least "at university"

"Such poetasting has only served to distract the reader from the poem and to divert his attention to supposed movements or schools, whereas the only affiliation finally relevant is that apparent from the work itself."

my dog-eared copy around here...somewhere..

a few years later Eliott Coleman (Hopkins),who knew that I was a friend of Joe and Jim Cararelli

in 1971 gave me a copy of Geof Hewitt's QUICKLY AGING HERE)

which includes a poem by Joe

and I discovered Sophia Castro-Leon, Gregory Orr and (my first taste of far-out) haiku (by Luke)

between all of this that you mention and "life" by 1975 I dropped out..

back in in about 2000
to find

10,000 Poetry Schools and Clubs/Clubbies...

My greatest fear? that if I drop out (again) now
when I drop back in
I'll be dead!

"Such poetasting has only served to distract the reader from the poem and to divert his attention to supposed movements or schools, whereas the only affiliation finally relevant is that apparent from the work itself."

nicely put...thanks

Curtis Faville said...

Bob Dylan would have been a wild card.

Merton would have been rather like Wendell Berry--conservative in form, but revolutionary in message.

Not many people read this book when it first appeared. I think I understood that then, that I was one of a tiny audience for the competing interests of living literature.

Field has recently pubished a memoir of his youth as a poet. I've just dipped into it, but he has amusing things to say about Ralph Pomeroy, among others.

Kirby Olson said...

Ashbery is on both lists, I think. His work very frequently appears in the New Yorker, for instance.

I tend to know the list on the right better, but many of them have strong institutional affiliations: Ginsberg and Ashbery taught at universities, as did Ed Dorn, and many others: Levertov, etc.

Even Corso could have probably gotten tenure at Buffalo but refused to take the loyalty oath.

I think it might be that one school's poetry is more directly based on autobiographical experience, and the other is a bit more spacy, a bit more about memes, and images, and archetypes.

That holds at least for W.S. Merwin and all that bones and water and such.

I tend to like gritty personal details a lot more. An empirical poetry, versus a Platonic poetry, perhaps, is the distinction?

But if that's the case, move Ashbery to the left column?

And Poe belongs over there, too.

Move John Clare over to the right, as the founder! And writers like Jules Champfleury would be the truest ancestors of the column on the right.

Kirby Olson said...

"A little drowsing cat is an image of a perfect beatitude." -- Jules Champfleury

Kirby Olson said...

IF the main criterion is empirical writing based on the nitty gritty of observed experienced, and the school on the right-hand's central quality is about observation, and the school on the let-hand's quality is about manipulation of language as abstracted from reality, then all LANGUAGE poets would have to go into the left-hand column.

Curtis Faville said...

I think you might find more to like on the conservative side of the ledger, Kirby, than on the other.

In particular, James Dickey, Anthony Hecht, Merton, Frederick Seidel, Anne Sexton, Snodgrass, Sward, and Wilbur. Dickey's very violent, "primitive" and viciously pro-war--you'd like it.

Sexton and Seidel talk about buried psychological issues, very Freudian. Dredging up ghosts and monster from the unconscious. Seidel is formally impressive, at times, a little like Plath.

Kirby Olson said...

War is a good thing, but only if it has a good end. I didn't like Dickey's book about the kayakers in the south.

I don't think people are "vicious," although Ginsberg was that, but only in an older sense of the word, having to do with "vice." I think people are generally principled, and can't live without good principles, and that the left is utterly without principles, but in this case the left is the right and vice versa.

I might make a list of poets in which principled stands as the central criterion. Who could we then put into the principled category? Marianne Moore, for sure.

Who else?

It's not a common trait among poets, because they tend to celebrate the vices, and thus to be vicious, at least in that sense.

There's been a recent autobiography about Dickey that shows how vicious he was, too, very manipulative, and kind of icky throughout.

jh said...

what a great intellectual stimulant this was this morning

thanks curtis

you're like a goddam professor
but i read every word

thanks for filling in the scene
with definition
and honed honesty

untermeyer still lives with me
sometimes i go back to that anthology of hayden carruth
that which is great within is

coming out of college i thought i understood berryman bly and ransom
and a smattering on both sides of your list
roethke was a friend as was richard hugo friends i carried with me in my pocket and read when stranded as was often the case
i didn't know merton was a poet until i entered the monastery

as a genuine feminine voice i found louise bogan to be most clear
in much the way i find your clarity

poets should fight it out a bit i guess why not some riots over poetry some washington demonstrations

perhaps the next major divide will be between poets who insist on tactile approaches to writing like pencils and old typewriters and those who are purely new tech poets twitter poets

between you and ron and kirby and ed i feel like i've been treated to a great cybercourse in real contemporary lit
i appreciate knowing the names i did not know

i ruminate more these days
chomp chomp

our cloister poet
fr killian mcdonald just walked in the room
he copies his verse from his cell and walks up the stairs to retrieve the texts from the copymachine
in his elder years taking wit to task amid the varied religious themes and characters
while i sit here bewildered that poetry happens at all


Ed Baker said...



we all
live/exist in a cell..

call it a mind call it skull


close the cell's door and stare at a wall

until something happens..




I stared at a "wall" or watched the grass grow

for 25 years

then POW 6-book NEIGHBORS erupted:

see 5 of the six
at bottom of this

especially what I use of/by/from Rilke & Breton.. as 'pre:face

there are a cple othe "monks" been 'ot there'

Brother Anthony and

Philip Whalen


there are countless numbers of monk/hermits
who wear no habits...


I forgot my point!



Kirby Olson said...

Corso and Kerouac were apparently both in favor of full-prosecution of the Vietnam War, but the evidence has been swept under the rug. They talked about it in public conferences from the period. I think this points to their principled qualities. The left has no principles.

One of the great problems I see is that a poet needs principles, but also needs to unite them with facts on the ground.

You can't have an empirical poetry without some overriding sense of a paradigm to put them in.

Marianne Moore had a completely different paradigm than most, having grown up within the church and never having left it. But she is still wonderfully empirically focussed, detailing actual experiences.

Ted Williams' head is cryogenically preserved in a laboratory in California against the wishes of Williams' own will: he wished to be cremated and dropped in the Atlantic. I read that in the New York Daily News this morning.

Put that into a framework, and smoke it.

Kirby Olson said...

JH, can't you get your cloister to produce your greatest hits alongside McDonald's?

I love your quick short sharp improvisations.

Every cloister should have two poets.

jh said...

i misspelt
kilian mcDonnell
that's his real name

i don't know about
the whole thing of poems on paper
in books
maybe some day

i read the stuff
but don't ever think about
getting it together enough
to make a book


i am mostly concentrated on songs
learning writing and performing songs
that's my artsy gig these days

early morning
now to bed


Steven Fama said...

The editors' respective POSTSCRIPTS in this book are AMAZING. Curtis, I'm surprised a bit you only mention them once.

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Bob Dylan? You believe that Robert Kelly wanted Bob Dylan in the anthology? Surely you jest, Ron. I don't believe that for a minute.

Curtis Faville said...


Yeah, but I didn't want the post just to be an advertisement for the editors' choices.

What I found inspiring was what I said:

"...the joint editors of A Controversy of Poets allowed their readers to imagine that the ultimate poetics was literally up for grabs, with the outcome very much in doubt. It didn't presume to say that everyone should, or could, think of all of its exemplars as inevitably chosen, but of all severally engaged in a colloquy of separate voices, none more "correct" than any other..."

--that the outcome wasn't fixed, you know? That you could have it all and not come unglued. For years, afterwards, right through my Iowa years and beyond, it bothered me--how to reconcile it. Those two worlds insulated from each other. Sort of like having your wife meet your mistress, or as I say in that last prose poem in Wittgenstein's Door--that the two halves of my being might meet in the cave of the unconscious.

Ed Baker said...

Hey, Annandale Dream

re: Robert Zimmerman

maybe "wake-up?

get thee directly to a "little" book published by Knopf, 1985:

LYRICS 1962-1985
by Bob Dylan

Includes ALL of "Writings and Drawings"
plus 120 new writings

THEN get thee The Songs of Bob Dylan 1966-1975



if you can find a copy (v e r y scarce) of

BOB DYLAN NEW MORNING complete vocal/piano folio (Columbia Album KC 30290) Words, music,and Arrangements by Bob Dylan with guitar diagrams & chord symbols

cpyright 1970 (1970!)

published by Big Sky Music via Chappell & Company who where up in The City
where I got my 'hot-off-the-press copy in 1970

from Bob's hand to mine...should of got him to sign it..

there are some neat photos in this on back cover is an very young Bob Dylan maybe 14 with a gitter almost as big as he is and a smiling black-woman blues singer at piano I forget her name his first "teacher" etc

Bob Dylan IS 100% troubadour

the "real-deal" of a poetics...neat if he had been included`

Bob Kelly knows his pees and ques, too!

just ask ...

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Ed -- I have no opinion one way or another about whether Dylan should have been included in the anthology. love Bob Dylan a lot. I just can't imagine that Robert Kelly does.

jh said...

i once recited the full text of
"visions of johanna"
to a young crowd with dylan awareness
they expressed amazement that the song actually had a narrative thread
so yeah why not
enough of the ivory tower preaching
in some ways dylan is a geek
he managed to protect himself pretty well
largely out of necessity
whereas neil young sort of hurled himself into the dust and clutter of north america
young i always felt tapped a deeper root than dylan into the american scene

cohen refused the highest literary honor of canada because he said he wasn't really a poet anymore
but that he was chosen is a pretty big deal
and i would agree

voices from the streets
that's all i hear


Ed Baker said...


why not just ask Bob?

he won't bite-chuh

though he looks vicious
he ain't


lets' talk about me!

Ed Baker said...

having phun yet?

try this:

Steven Fama said...

Hey Curtis,

I wasn't wishing you'd advertised the editor's choices, but maybe show a bit, and incorporate into your discussion, their take on the divide, etc.

Let me do a lowest common denominator here. All the poems in Controversy) are basically the same. Letters, arranged in words, arranged on the page.

The real amazing thing about that anthology, I've always thought, is how it starts: all of Ashbery's "Europe." Think about what a mind-bender that still was in 1965, and maybe even today, to start any anthology but the most experimental with that poem...

Anonymous said...

"This anthology is designed to turn the attention of the reader away from movements, schools or regional considerations. Hitherto some of these poets have been referred to by commentators more enthusiastic than accurate as belonging to this or that rival--and hostile--school. Such poetasting has only served to distract the reader from the poem and to divert his attention to supposed movements or schools, whereas the only affiliation finally relevant is that apparent from the work itself."


In my contemporary literature course my students (if they did know him) only knew Ron Silliman as the angry blogger who rails against anything that does seem avant-garde to him in his deeply reductive way.

My students did not know any of Ron Silliman's poems until I walked them through the sentences from "Albany" to which Under Albany refers.

After the unit on Language poets and Ron Silliman, one then asked me in an email last semester "Why is he so angry? What does he want from other poets? Is this [the poet of "Albany"] the same guy who comes across as such a narrow, sarcastic, bitter creepy guy--who seems so full of himself and his allies?"

I countered that very, very few poets are generous.

Very few poets can appreciate work across many styles and approaches.

But her questions still came: "What does Ron Silliman want from other poets? Why does he label and put-down poets in ways that he wouldn't want others to label and put him down? Why does it seem like he's 'hating'?"

Her questions cut to the core and my only advice to her was to stop reading Ron Silliman's blog and theoretical books and go back to his poems.

After this interchange I came to the following conclusion.

This is the incredible problem with poetry worlds today: Too much ridiculous, ego-filled, self-righteous bullshit about who should, could, would, does, or does not belong to somebody's trumped up school, or who gets prizes, or where they're published; and less attention to the actual poems.

By their very nature poems are textual experiences that always vex assumed classifications, even and especially ones that we think may fit or not fit our view of a particular genre.

It's really sad when a person's or a group's persona overshadows their poems.

Ed Baker said...

hey anonohmuss...

regarding this you say:

"Very few poets can appreciate work across many styles and approaches."

this statement and to your students? is,,, well,,horse-shit! they should opt out of your coursse. you ant a list?

check out Cid Corman..
start with The Gist of Origin and I cld give you a list of 10 poet-friends who

otherwise... there is much more "out there" than what you are positing...

Anonymous said...

Ed: How sad of you to call my ideas "horseshit" and to attack my teaching when you know nothing about it. You nicely prove my point with your nasty, cuss word-laced attack: that so many poets (like you, it seems) lack generosity. Alas, much to your dismay, my courses are routinely over-enrolled and I expose my students to a diversity of poetic approaches. What makes poets like you so seemingly nasty and mean-spirited? I will never know the answer.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

'A Controversy of Poets'

Purchased new for $2.95 in 1972 at the UH bookstore. Still have it.

Mandatory reading for 'Introduction to Poetry'...University of Houston, 1972.

I just went through a similar experience with Bill Knott on Harriet about Hayden Carruth's 'The Voice That Is Great Within Us'.

Purchased new for $1.95 in 1971 at the UNM bookstore. Still have it.

Mandatory reading for 'Poetry 101'...University of New Mexico, 1971.

Say, have you guys run across that Shakespeare guy yet?

jadecar said...

Yeah, Well, I thought I was reading a fairly lively exchange about a poetry anthology until it devolved into sniping and low shot personal attacks. Thanks, Gary, for yr comments and for attempting to get people back on track. I just pulled my own copy of, A Controversey, off the shelf and found that I had actually put checkmarks in the table of contents next to the poets I had read or intended to read in the collection and not surprisingly most of them tend to appear next to the poets listed in the ' right hand ' column first posited on this blog. In my own case this was most likely done because I had probably already read at least some of the work and/or collections of most of the poets I had checked off, probably in the Allen Anthology or elsewhere in small press editions of their work available at the time in bookstores. The others, to my mind ' mainstream ' or, Gawd Help me, ' academic ' poets I automatically avoided as they were the ones who I had most likely come across in undergraduate classrooms at the time ( this would be the early Seventies in my own case ) and so the James Dickey, Anthony Hecht, Vassar Miller, Kenneth Pitchford, Frederick Seidel, W.D. Snodgrasa, etc. would have had no interest for me, and still don't, although I'm surprised to discover that I had checked off Robert Sward, Ralph Pomeray, Robert Pack and Donald Finkel. At any rate, I'm just angry now that I ruined a now collectible old poetry anthology by putting stupid checkmarks in it. Another anthology that came out a few years later that's largely forgotten now is Inside Outer Space, New Poems for the Space Age, An Anthlogy Edited by Robert Vas Dias in 1970. Sounds like it could of been a Sci-fi anthology of the time. Its Table of Contents ( mercifully left unchecked-marked) includes many of the same names as the Kelley with probably more ' left column ' names appearing, but it also includes some others of interest who didn't appear in Controversey: William Bronk, Kirby Congdon, Dan Gerber, Anselm Hollo, Ronald Johnson, etc. It was a few years later and so perhaps some of the above had not as yet begun publishing in 1965. LeRoi Jones certainly had and so had James Koller. Yugen and Coyote respectfully were already available. Both Rothenberg and Quasha appear at a time when neether had yet begun publishing any of their own groundbreaking anthologies. Someone no doubt will correct me if I'm wrong on this. Anyone else have the Vas Dias anthology handy?

Anonymous said...

Charles Causley is an interesting example of someone in that anthology -- which I remember too, and in similar circumstances -- who 'crosses'. My other great example of that on 'the English side' is Stevie Smith.

Ed Baker said...

"Say, have you guys run across that Shakespeare guy yet?"

ain't he that hack plat-write who filched from everybody?

even his sonnets don't hold a candle to

check out a beautiful book put out by The Heritage Press (NYC) in

BEAUTIFUL big book in a slip-case one poem on a page opposite the Italian..

edited w an intro by Thos Bergin and delightful line drawings of "her" by Aldo Salvadori


this is another "of" in title book:

The Sonnets of Petrarch

don't leave this earth with-out it!

not a single nasty word in it

though lots of "love and hot passion"

jh said...

hay a non ee muss
yoo takey ed way to serious
he no meeney
he just a lito lito tired and well jaded too but he ain't so mean
really he ain't
he used to give me all kinds o shite
until it was clear i am a monk
now he reeferz to me
as br phuqqhead
but he's kind about it
you'll get used to the semantix
take the time to warm up to his ret O rik
he's sort of fun
and fun kee
ping around the poesie

Ed Baker said...

hey jay ache..

John & Jan Perlman just here.. Perlman

we go waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy back

he was first to publish poems of mine in 1972-ish in his SHUTTLE

we plan to do a movie of us reading later tonight via one of them little phones a cell phone


speaking of monks

I just found out that
Daido Loori died!
John and Jan


it really ain't about that y'all being a monk...

shit, you could just as swell be in a cell in Alcatraz! or in a room in the back of your house.

Ed Baker said...

pee est:

hey anonumous..

don't take it too personally..

most of what is "out there" being called poetry IS pure garbage!

produced by clubbies and credentialist..

who've been in the
so lonng
that they can no longer smell
the stink

...much less the roses!

Ed Baker said...


rain rain rain
John and Jan wenta home up near Rehobath Beach..

plus they got 'wiped out" doing the mall tourist "thing"

so they didn't go over to Mount Vernon and Arlington Cemetery acuse they were pooped! so we didn't do it..

so I guess I'll just have to continue reading to my gold fish..

meanwhile I accidentally snipped my string of mala beads and 108 of em scattered.. took me all day to get up off the floor

so, I guess I and John are yet "in absentia" and
will NEVER become Major American Famous Poets

thanks for asking...

pee est I may just do one myself...

J said...

Zimmerman had a few nice riffs, but real? Nyet. McMeal.

Beats overrated as a whole, alas--Snyder had a few pleasant Muirish mountain songs--better Zen than, er Zim. Or Zin. Poesy as a whole is. Roethke was McReal Deal. A bit of Frost . Pound

Crane too. Steven. And Poe, as in poem.

Snodgrass at least uglified in a an interesting way..... like Simic

Ed Baker said...

one night in May
1972 or so
walking down 2 nd ave
towards the corner pub

(speaking of Bob Zimmerman)

walking with Pauline/Fay

Cienna and Tony caught up to us

and this chubby guy falls in with us
and we all go for snapps and munchies


it was Bob's brother... David! doing something in The City re: recording a group..

I think that there is a Dvid's Album "out there"

J said...

that's a bit different than most of the El Lay hipsters' Dylanmann stories, which tend to be of the "we heard there was a par-tay in the 'Bu at dylan's compound , and tried to get in but they called the cops on us...." sort

Not Lon said...

Merton's last book of poetry, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOGRAIRE, shows definite interest in formal experimentation...